"I have always imagined that Paradise will be some kind of library." ~ Jorge Luis Borges

Monday, June 5, 2017

Storytelling is an ART(form)

Back in early May, I had the pleasure of moderating a panel of children's book illustrators at the MSLA Conference, Beyond the Binding

The panel included these fabulous four people:

These four illustrators represent a diversity in style and approach that made for an interesting and informative discussion, but it was also incredibly fun. There was frequent laughter and a great rapport among the panelists. 

There is never enough time to get to all the questions, so Raúl, Ekua, Scott, and Vita nicely offered to answer the remaining questions by email. 

Raúl's answers are in blue
Ekua's answers are in red
Scott's answers are in orange
Vita's answers are in deep purple

What is the wildest question 
a kid/student has ever asked you?
Raúl: The wildest question has always been, Do you have to draw every single book? As in every single copy of Lowriders in Space ever printed!!

Ekua: I haven't had any wild questions yet but the most unexpected and thoughtful from a 4th grader was, "What was your childhood like?"

Scott: Did you come here in a limo?

Vita: "Do you make a lot of money at your job, is it enough to drive a cool car.” I continue to ask myself the same question. I drive a used station wagon so. .  . you be the judge.  

What is the most important tool or skill 
you employ as an artist?
Raúl: Working with my team which means that I enjoy listening and learning from them. The rest is perseverance and a sore hand.

Ekua: Patience and faith, and willingness to reconsider.

Scott: My iPad Pro. I sketch on it, create some final art with it and it connects me to the world to handle the business aspects of my job as an artist. And I can play the occasional game with it to get my mind off of stuff for awhile. ;)

Vita: Cooperation. hands down. listening and cooperation. It takes so many people to bring our stories and art to life, I have to be a good listener and up for cooperating with others. 

If you could spend an afternoon 
with a book character, 
who would it be and what would you do?
Raúl: I really love the gang from Lowriders in Space. All three of them, Lupe, Elirio and Flapjack. I feel that we would get along. Working on awesome projects together, painting cars. I don't need much more than that to be happy!

Ekua: The Nana in "Don't Call Me Grandma."

Scott: Harry Potter and a tour of Hogwarts Castle which would include sitting in on a class or two and a meal in the Great Hall under its enchanted ceiling. I mean…right?

Vita: Oh it's a toss up between Lauren Child's Soren Lorenson and Neon Pink crayon from the day the crayons quit/came home by Drew Daywalt and Oliver Jeffers. We just have the same sense of humor that crayon and I.

Tell us about a children’s book 
that you are excited to get into the hands 
of young readers.
Raúl: I really enjoyed Last Stop on Market Street by Matt de la Pena and Christian Robinson. I loved the bus ride and the varied characters that they meet there. I think its nice to recognize that the people around you are unique with their experiences and talents.

Ekua: I recently signed to do "Beach Ladya debut picture book by author Heidi Tyline King. I can't wait to get started.

Scott: Rescue and Jessica by Jessica Kensky and Patrick Downes. Its based on the true story of the Boston Marathon bombing survivors' life—with Jessica's black lab assistance dog, Rescue. We want the book to demystify physical disabilities and to showcase the talents and positive effects of service dogs. For me, Jessica, Patrick and Rescue are an inspiration—and I am at once proud, humbled and thrilled to be a part of this project; I’m just about to complete the art. The book will pub in Spring 2018—the 5th anniversary of the marathon bombings. The art style is more realistic that I’ve worked in before but I think its good to get out of my comfort zone. I give many thanks to Candlewick Press for signing up this ambitious book. I can’t wait for people to read it.

Vita: Oh love any book that is weird or unusual or does something weird and unusual. And I'm obviously an unabashed pusher of wordless and limited word books. Right now on all my author visits I've been bringing along Orvind Torsetters The Hole. It has a hole all the way through it! And of course our next book Zero Local coming next year through Candlewick.

Who has had a positive impact 
on your reading life?
Raúl: My Mom. Olga Gonzalez. She took us to the library at a young age and the books and librarians did the rest.

Ekua: My aunt, Barbara Elam. A visionary librarian who was ahead of her time. She made reading a part of my daily life while in her care from age five to thirteen. She recently passed away. I will carry her with me always. And of course my mother. Without her guidance and belief in me I might have had a very different life.

Scott: My grandfather and grandmother. My earliest and fondest memories of reading were on their knee. Funny, but now that I think of it—both memories involved either reading Sunday funnies or comic books with them. I guess my fate was sealed very early on!

Vita: Currently my kids for sure. And my book club; they keep me challenged, open and healthily cynical. I'm incredibly grateful for the social connecting that reading has brought into my life. It used to feel solitary now it means gathering together.

Wow! These answers are just like the day of our panel: interesting, inspiring, funny and thought provoking. I wish our conversation could continue. I so enjoyed getting to know you all better during our panel discussion and I look forward to sharing all I have learned from you with my students.
Thank you, Raúl, Ekua, Scott and Vita! 

Wednesday, May 31, 2017

ReedALOUD: The Quest for Z

The idea of their being "blank spots" and unexplored places on the planet is such a exciting concept. I don't have the temperament to be an explorer, but I would love to visit some recently discovered places, like the one in Cambodia under Angkor Wat or the recently discovered cities in the Amazon. Unlike me, Percy Fawcett had the belief, drive, and temperament, but not the tools to achieve his greatest dream -- finding the city of Z, as he named it. Too bad he was not born a hundred years later than he was. 
Thank goodness for children's book authors and illustrators who bring incredible stories like this to light. Greg Pizzoli has done just this with his new biography about Percy Fawcett, The Quest for Z: the true story of explorer Percy Fawcett and a lost city in the Amazon. I recently read The Quest for Z with my fifth grade classes and they were hooked from the outset. 
Pizzoli has done a brilliant job of making Fawcett's story accessible, engaging and interesting to young readers. Helpful maps and sidebar information fill in the knowledge gap and expand understanding.
The effective employment of humor, both in the narrative and the art, humanizes Fawcett and gives insight into the often scary reality of the trips. 

After numerous mapping expeditions, some with rather gruesome events, Fawcett sets off on his seventh trip to the Amazon with his son and his son's best friend. Pizzoli once again gives insight into Fawcett's quest to find Z showing him trotting along at a pace the two young men cannot maintain. 
Newspaper accounts helped finance the expedition and an eager populace followed the journey. Dispatches were sent out from the group to local runners who delivered them to the journalists. Fawcett certainly believed his quest had a higher calling.
The students were unaware that this was Fawcett's last message, his last communication with the world. I turned the page and left it up on the screen for the students to read. There were audible gasps.
This illustration is incredibly powerful and informative. The newsprint leaves choke off the light, the darkness overcomes the page, and the words are being swallowed up by the rain forest. Wow. We needed to wait here a moment.

Pizzoli could have ended the story there, but my students and I are glad he did not. The events following his death are equally as interesting. The mystery of what happened has kept explorers venturing into the Amazon in the hundred years since Fawcett's disappearance. Again, Pizzoli's telling of this aspect of the story translates much through both art and narrative. Quiet a few people have not made it back from their quest to find Fawcett. Sounds a bit familiar, right?
After hearing about those who have tried to find out what happened to Fawcett and the two young men, the reader is informed that despite these failures, modern technology has allowed explorers to find lost cities in the Amazon, not the big buildings that Fawcett envisioned, but ancient civilizations nonetheless. As Pizzoli posits, maybe Fawcett wasn't a failure after all, maybe his quest hepled this later exploration to happen.
My students and I were left discussing not only Fawcett's story, but also: how amazing that Fawcett survived as many trips as he did; the idea that maybe there are those who do not want these lost cities found and are maybe trying to protect them; and yet, how exciting it is to hear of these ancient places and the people that inhabited them. The end papers provide a subtle reminder that Fawcett is still out there somewhere.
We needed to look at maps and websites after reading the book. Luckily, the back matter includes suggestions. I also found these two pictures in a report about the movie, Lost City of Z. I didn't show the report, just the two photos. The picture of Fawcett along the border helped the students understand how daunting the task was to map the borders.
The final trip

Fawcett mapping the border between Bolivia and Brazil in 1908.

Thank you, Greg Pizzoli, this is one shared reading experience they will not soon forget. #coolbeans.

Monday, May 22, 2017

Assessing the Impact of a Responsive School Library Program

I am at that point in the school year when we are called upon to reflect on our professional and student learning goals and examine the impact this goal work has had on teaching and learning.

Both my professional and student goal connected to the Responsive School work going on in my library as well as our school. My goalmates (yes, I made that one up) and I designed a survey instrument at the end of last year. The fifth graders took this short survey the third week of school and just took it again this past week. Only one student raised the question, "Didn't we answer these questions before?" I am not sure how many students made a connection to the survey of eight months ago and I am not sure what impact it would have on their answers. Something for me to consider moving forward. 

The answers to the surveys on their own tell one story, the answers compared tell another.

Fifth grade students feel less excited but generally happier about school. More students express feeling unsure and unhappy about school than in the fall. The first few weeks of school are full of promise for most students, so this is not surprising. These students have also just finished up standardized testing and are also starting to make that transition to moving onto middle school. Both events impact how they feel about school in general.

While this bigger school perspective was taking place, the students responses show that they feel the library is a welcoming and safe space, with a general shift toward this view across the spectrum. The percent of students strongly agreeing with this statement grew from 41% to 46%.  It feels good to know that this space took on greater meaning to students as the year went on.

Another significant shift in perspective occurred in how the students see the value or use of the library outside their class time. There was a jump from 67% to 80% in the number of students who see the library as a place they like to visit outside of the scheduled class time. This makes my heart happy.

The students and I have worked hard on establishing and following routines in the library and its important for me to see that this area has fallen off and that fewer students are feeling that the routines are clear. This tells me that I have not done as good a job with these older students, such as referring back to our school rules and routines when working with them. Something good for me to hold onto next year.

The one open response question asked students to share and explain a routine in the library. The students responses demonstrated their understanding of routines for entering and leaving the library as well as browsing and borrowing. A few other responses were quite cool. They are below.

Fall 2016
"Coming in the room and sitting on the rug should look like finding a good rug spot, it should sound like a level 1 volume, it should like you know what you are doing."
"Library routines should sound quiet feel happy and it should look peaceful"
"If you take a book and you find another one put the book that you took first back to where you found it."
"When I walk in the library door I just think of finding a good learning spot on the rug"
"Browsing and borrowing should be relatively quiet, and when you're in line, wait your turn :)"
"Meeting time looks like everyone is on the rug. It should feel exciting and welcoming."
"If you feel like you need a break then you can quietly go to the take a break chair and sit and regroup until you are ready to join the rest of the class."
"While browsing, you should be careful when putting a book back in the shelf."
"it should sound like listening to each other"
"One library routine is browsing and borrowing that should be at a noise level 1-2."
"browsing and borrowing should sound like everyone either whispering or using quiet voices and should feel relaxing."
"single file line along the non fiction book section at the end of class while you are waiting for your teacher to come get your class, you should be standing on a red star and the noise volume should be at a 1 or a 2 if needed"
"Entering the Library Safely and Quietly"
"Be respectful of all books and materials in the library"
"When you browse and borrow you should treat the books with respect."

Spring 2017
"when we exit we line up on the star spots while the timer runs"
"every one should be sitting in the dot spot"
"When you walk into the class you should quietly and calmly go to the rug and find a good spot where you can focus."
"browsing and borrowing should be fun, quite, and it should look like people are picking out books that they like."
"When you walk into the room, you immediately find a dot spot."
"In meeting time we always read the schedule and listen to the person who reads it."
"Coming in is quiet and quick"
"When you enter or exit, you are expected to enter/exit quietly. Voice level 1/0."
"browsing: quietly look for books, put books back spine side out.'
"You walk into the library silently and sit down on the rug in a good learning seat :)"
"Browsing-Quietly looking through what you want, putting a book back where you found it if you don't want it."
Browsing/borrowing ~ Quiet, with or without friends
"when leaving music play's which means you have two minutes line up on a star spot"
"when leaving music play's which means you have two minutes line up on a star spot you clean up and line up"
"When you leave the library, the teacher will give us a signal(such as turning off the lights) for us to quietly exit the library with our books. I saw people standing straight in line and silently heading out the library door."
"Don't talk if someone is speaking."
"Respecting that people like different books, so don't make fun of someone for liking a certain genre"

Answers to the survey by time period

Much information for me to work with here!

Sunday, May 14, 2017

Maker Month: Building Knowledge One Experience at a Time

Happy MAYker Month!

There's something to celebrate every month of the year and in May its time to recognize all the ways we make (gain) knowledge through innovation and exploration. 

We started the library lessons by reading either 


With their creative brains sparked, the students chose where to begin building knowledge. They were encouraged to think about what they are learning when:
~ writing or telling stories
~creating with Lego
~building with Keva Planks
~playing card games
~doing puzzles
~creating games

Check out some scenes from MAYking Knowledge this week:

Playing Cribbage

Creating a game and game pieces

Writing Stories

Playing Bananagrams

Playing with Cards

Creating with Lego Pieces

Solving Keva Planks Brain Builder puzzles

Building with Keva Planks 



How are your students building knowledge?